Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Blog


I am leaving this blog up since there is valuable information here for people whose loved ones are suffering with a terminal illness or cancer.  But I will not be updating this blog any longer as I have started a new blog to represent a break and to indicate the direction my life is now taking now that my wife has passed away.

Feel free to visit the new blog at:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Requiem of marriage and of blog

I believe I am going to make this the last post I place here.  Am I done blogging forever?  I don't know. I just know that I feel I need a clean break from this.  I had planned on taking a long trip overseas or at least someplace isolated in order to grieve and make sense of my world.

As it turned out I didn't take the trip.  There were a lot of factors (work, family, etc.) that made me decide to put it out either into later this year or early next year.  How ironic then that since my son is away during this period with his grandparents that I should have that cathartic experience just sitting in my house on a Sunday.

I was reading a book and enjoying the quiet - then suddenly I smelled my wife's scent...nothing overwhelming, subtle, but after 18 years of marriage you know your spouse.  I then found myself thinking of her and suddenly I could see her clearly in my mind smiling - with the little crinkles she used to get around her eyes, and then I saw her crying - something she did a lot more towards the end, then I remembered carrying her up the stairs and bathing her, and then I remembered feeling her pulse ebb away as she took her last breath with her eyes wide and staring.  It was as if I had experience our life together in a Persian miniature - it was an experience akin to being struck by lightening.  And in that moment a wretch came from my throat and I howled and then cried as I have never cried even when she died.  And I let myself go and I cried and cried.  And when I was done, the weight on my chest felt almost exactly as if she were embracing me - the way her head tucked neatly under my chin.  And then it was gone.  I cleaned myself up, I felt light-headed - but I also felt strangely good.

And then like I was on auto-pilot I walked upstairs and got the only letter she wrote which had written on it that it was explicitly for me.  I had planned to save it for the 1st anniversary of her death in December, but something had propelled me upstairs to get it - and I knew I was meant to open it today. Here is what I found:

"My love Alan,                                                                                  26 August 2012

You've left on another school outing with J.  I've missed more and more of them these days.  I see life continuing on through him and I've finally started to see life continuing through you.  The hummingbird will come back to my sambagita.  The birdfeeder is again half empty because of the goldfinches, my birds will be back again hitting the window to get more seed out for themselves.  And, God willing, I will spend another anniversary with you.

It is so hard to write a letter like this to you.  To try to encompass all our life has meant to each other and to think of what more time would have meant.  I've reached my expiration point sooner than yours, which means I won't be getting my Porsche.  I should have picked out a make and model so that anytime you saw one you would think of me.  Nah.  Material things were never part of my happiness.

I would have followed you wherever you went.  There was never a place that I wanted to go unless you were there with me.  Europe, UAE, Saudi, the Philippines - I never would have gone unless you were there.  I would've been happy staying home but you made it better by taking me on your travels as well.

Funny how we met in New York and made the succeeding years full of travels and adventures.  These last few years I wish we had done more.  I always enjoyed avoiding Christmas at your mom's house!  This last Ramadan I didn't even get to put up the lights.  Such is life.

I hope you will marry.  I can't really see you spending 40 years or probably 50 years of your life without a companion.  It breaks my heart thinking of it like that, but you don't deserve to be lonely it would destroy you.

This letter began with me crying from the get go, missing you.  For some reason I could never stay like that though.  I could hold a grudge and then some, but being miserable and upset was never a part of me.  To you I entrust my son because he can only reflect that love of mine.  The life we've made I hope you don't compromise and take the easy way out because that was never me - and it is not you either.  My disease held you back from pursuing more of your dreams.  I hope it no longer will.

Writing this seems so short to me - like life itself.  So many memories should fill these pages I have in front of me but it could never be enough for me.

I have and will always love you Alan Howard.  My soul will be with God, but a part of it is yours to hold and carry as you make your way through this life.  You have filled me with pride being married to you.  I love you.

Notes:  Joan always made the joke that if she beat the cancer that I was required to buy her the Porsche of her choosing.

Both Joan and I always disliked how my mom made a big deal over Christmas but studiously avoided celebrating our household's non-Christian holidays or even mentioning them.  So we found schemes (ever more elaborate as the years went on) to avoid being there for the holiday.  We still celebrated it with her, but just not in a large way.  Ironically Joan died on December 23rd so she got the ultimate scheme going to avoid it at the last.

There was a bit more in the letter, but that is deeply private and I am keeping it that way.  But the above is an important footnote for this blog I think.  I will leave it up for a few more months at least.

Friday, July 12, 2013

So Tired

I don't know if anyone really reads this blog.  And I find myself tiring of it these days.  Maybe I am just tired of everything.  Nothing really makes sense any longer.

It has been 6 months since my wife died, and I find the world a colder, darker and meaningless place.  I see the beauty of the world around me just as I did before she died, but it is strange because it is almost like it doesn't reach I have a bubble around me and I'm always looking at everything a little bit disconnected.  Sort of like seeing and interacting with the world through a pane of glass.

I also feel like the world doesn't have any real meaning or purpose any longer.  I take calls on behalf of my customer at work, from my team, and I answer them and I take care of their is my job.  But it is also like I am sleep-walking or just going through the motions.  The business concerns of my management and of my customer seem so petty, so tiny compared to the vast sadness I feel and the huge problems of the world that I find them annoying rather than fulfilling.

Things are bad on another front too.  I thought I had a purpose or a drive, it all made sense when I talked to her in the days before she died - I'd sell the house and move closer to our son's school.  That way I don't have to drive 45 minutes each way every day for school.  But I am not doing the things I need to do to make that happen, and the more I look into moving the more I am unsure whether it is the right thing or not.  What is the point of buying a new home and moving if I may only stay in the house for a year.  Yes, if I only stay a year I will have a house somewhere where it is easy to rent and make a profit off of it in the long-term.  But it seems silly to buy a house for such a short period and for such a purpose.  As I stated, it all made perfect sense before.  Now she is gone, the world is colorless, meaningless....and I do not know what the right path is.

I trust myself and I trust in God, but while knowing that gives me does not answer the question of what is the right decision.  And the other bad thing, is that I find myself not really caring what I do or whether I make a decision.  I find that very troubling.

I am just so tired of all of this......

Thursday, June 27, 2013


There are so many things to think about for the future that I find myself getting frustrated just thinking about it.  Maybe in an effort to help myself parse them I am going to list out some of the things frustrating me right now.

1.  For the last 6 years my wife and I talked about moving down closer to my son's school.  Between picking him up from school and dropping him off and violin lessons and choir lessons on some days I spent 2-3 hours in the car shuttling him from place to place.  We always talked about moving down by the school, but she always got sick and we'd postpone the plan.  Now I am finding it more complicated than I realized:
  • My son only has one last year at his school.  Should I just put up with another  year of driving him?  
  • He has expressed interest in a science and math high school up here in Gwinnett.  However, if he is not selected to join it then we'll be stuck in Gwinnett and he'll be going to a less than stellar high school that I am zoned for.
  • If we move closer to his school, depending on where I buy a house there are several very good high schools with IB programs.
  • My son has told me that so long as I let him finish this next school year he is willing to go with me anywhere in the world, if I get relocated or decide to do something.  Moving closer to his school would potentially give me a properly I could rent for profit even if I move away from here.
I am just not sure what the right option is.

2.  I am having a hard time deciding what to do with myself now.  I could go back to school and get my MBA, but I'm not sure I'm interested in business after 15 years in the field.  I could go back and try to get a Ph.D in something internationally focused, but that might take 4 years or more.  And I'm not getting any younger and taking 4 years off of my time seems like a lot.  I know I can do it, period.  But do I want to devote that time?

3.  I could stay with my current company and find an opportunity to be relocated abroad.  But with that I am at the mercy of whether there is anything out there, and it is notoriously hard to break into something like that abroad.  I have one advantage in that I am willing to go to places most would not consider like Africa or Myanmar.

4.  I have a few reasonably good business ideas.  They all have a certain level of risk and potential.  All of them require capital, something I do not have but might be able to get with the right marketing pitch. But starting a business is a very time-intensive undertaking and you must devote your life to it like a slave for at least the first few years until it is running relatively normally.  I am just not sure if that is what I want to do either.

5.  Another option is to do absolutely nothing.  Keep the status quo.  Make not decisions.  That way is attractive because I don't have to do anything at all.  But pretending that none of the above issues exist is not very useful, because I know I want to do SOMETHING.  I just do not know what it is yet.

That is why I am frustrated these days.  I know I have options, I know that I can achieve great things....but the fact that my brain is frozen and will not help me come up with good ideas or alternatives is very upsetting.
I know many of you will tell me I'm rushing or trying too hard.  Well, maybe I am...but put yourselves in my shoes.  My wife is dead, I am a single father trying to raise him properly without guidance.  I am juggling a lot of different balls and roles.  And I am not the sort of person to do nothing, I have to be actively doing something.  That is why I am trying to come up with things.  Frustrated.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Every night for the last 2 weeks I have seen my late wife in my dreams.  In most she is happy and sitting or walking with me somewhere.  It is good to see her happy and it is good to see her healthy.  At first, these dreams made me feel good.  Almost as if she were reaching out to me and letting me know it was okay.  I found solace in them and it helped me to put aside some of the melancholia I've been dealing with.

But I am a bit worried now that we're heading into the 3rd week.  I seem to go to bed anxious to see her even for a moment.  And I want to linger in bed just in case she comes again.  So far I have resisted, but I am worried that the line between waking and sleeping is blurring and that I could become obsessed with seeing her and thus become somnolent all the time.

Honestly, I doubt that will happen.  I have our son to take care of and I have a job that I have responsibilities towards.  But it is a concern for me.  She seems so happy and beautiful in my dreams, and that is exactly how I want to always remember her.

This is a short post.  But I wanted to get it off my chest.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Trying on Gratitude

I am working very hard to embrace gratitude.  Thankfulness, self-worthiness.....

Despite the heart-wrenching experience of losing my wife and the soul-numbing grief it has engendered, I have lately been trying to show gratitude for many things:

  • Gratitude for the friends that stuck with me through my wife's illness and even now that she is gone reach out to me to make sure I am okay.
  • Gratitude for my son.  Who is growing into a young man who while touched by unbelievable sadness and having been wounded in a way that will never truly heal....continues to amaze me with his maturity and ability to laugh and smile.
  • Gratitude that given the loss of my wife, I am financially stable and have a good roof over my head.
  • Gratitude for a job that was and has been understanding of the transitions I went through while caring for my wife, and the transition that I am undertaking to a new life without her.
  • Gratitude for my family (my own as well as hers) who have loved me unconditionally throughout this experience.
  • Gratitude that despite her suffering, the pain and the chemotherapy she was able to have a good and full life and to travel and see many of the things in this world that she wanted before moving on to the next world.
  • Gratitude that my prayers were answered.  Even the ones I really didn't want answered.  I remember a month before her death on a particularly awful day when she was in a tremendous amount of pain - I went to the grocery store.  I sat in the parking lot and cried and cried until my throat burned and I could barely breathe.  I begged and pleaded with God to ease her pain, and if it was His will to take her sooner rather than later......and to let her passing be quiet and peaceful. And here my gratitude while tinged with tears....knows its highest levels.  Because God heard me, she passed 3 weeks later and without pain or trouble.
So despite the heartache I feel almost every day, I have a lot to be thankful for.  And I will continue to embrace it as long as I can.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I am on a business trip to San Diego this week.  And I had a flood of different emotions while I was here.  Most of them new and completely unexpected.  As a result I think the trip was good for me because it got me out of the familiar and into the larger "world" so to speak.

First, I found that when I would go to dinner at a restaurant that the scene of a happy family interacting together - was both happy (what can be more joyous then seeing a family together) and left me wistful. Longing for something similar.  It also reminded me of other times when my wife and I had traveled and tried new and different things, and yet here I was sitting alone contemplating another family building memories together.

Being in San Diego also bubbled up lots of memories of the last time I was here.  My wife and I drove from Sacramento to San Diego along the Pacific Coast Highway about 4-5 years ago.  She was sick, but could travel.  I remember stopping at artichoke farms.  Almond groves, and strawberry fields.  I remember taking pictures of the cliffs along the coast and seeing California Condors at the Big Sur.  Great memories, but being here reminds me of it all.  Good memories.  Strong memories.  And memories that make me sad and make my chest hurt like there is an enormous rock on it.

The second strange experience I had came on my second day here.  I was walking around the Gaslamp District of downtown San Diego and stopped at a restaurant that looked good.  I was wearing a tshirt with the German flag on it - one I have had for a long time and was not even aware I was wearing really.  The hostess asked me about it and we struck up a conversation.  She is German, from Hamburg and we proceeded to have a very nice conversation in both English and my rudimentary German.  It was just a pleasant fairly bland conversation.  But somewhere in the middle of the discussion as we laughed and compared notes about both CA and Germany - I became strangely conscious of my new status as an unattached man.  And I suddenly felt panicked and shy...but also at the same time ashamed - as I would be if I were still with my wife....but also strangely liberated to be talking to this woman in a normal way without any hangups.  All this was going on in my head of course, and I was pleasant and friendly throughout (I'm not going to subject this poor woman to my psychosis).  Eventually I broke off the conversation and had some food and headed back to the hotel.  But this was a very strange experience for me.  It may take me a while to think it all through and figure out the best course of action for future such instances.  I do not want to become an emotional cripple.

End of the School Year

So I worked hard to get rid of a lot of stressful things that were weighing me down recently.  And I succeeded in backing off of projects at work and cutting back my volunteer activities.  So you might think I was enormously successful and thus have lots of additional time on my hands to grieve and/or get stuff done.

Except that it hasn't really happened like that.  Given that it is the end of May, that means that it is quickly moving towards the end of the school year and I am finding as a father and single parent that this means a lot of stress.

My son has his end of the school year class play to put on tomorrow.  He has been running around like a crazy person working on that and me making sure he is being ferried to the right place.  In addition he has had 2 end of the year concerts with his Atlanta Boy Choir that has meant extra rehearsals.  And he leaves on June 3rd for his Choir tour of eastern Canada....and I have not gotten all of the things he needs for that!

In addition there is his class end-of-year party.  And his class this year is in charge (and by extension the parents) of setting up and cleaning up after the 8th grade graduation ceremony (his school only goes up to grade 8, that is why this is a big deal).

So I find myself stressing completely out thinking about all the things that need to get done, and the limited time I have to get it done.  I know that at the end of the day it will happen and life will go on, but there is so much between now and then that it is a bit overwhelming.  I will need to put my super-dad hat and cape on in order to pull this proverbial rabbit out of the hat.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Settling in, Decisions.....Planning

Sometimes I think the transition through grief and moving along with your life is so gradual that you really are not sure at any given moment where you are.  I know that I've moved past the fear and paralysis stage, to the more "normal" stages - grief, anger, etc.  I am really not sure where I am now, I am getting on with life.  I am a lot less stressed since I had my disenfranchisement of extraneous work and items (see previous posts).  As a result I have more time to relax and think about the things that perhaps while sad, I need to be thinking about.  I am having a lot of dreams in which my wife features prominently, some are happy, some are very intimate and some suck the wind out of the sense that I can see her clearly but she is across a river or canyon from me and I'm trying to reach her or call to her and of course I cannot do so.  She stands there just looking at me.  In the happier ones we are walking side by side and she is smiling and it is obvious she is no longer in pain, and when I awaken I can still feel the warmth of her palm on my own from where we were holding hands.

I am glad I am having the dreams.  It helps me deal with the grief.  And I feel that they are a gift perhaps directly from her or from God to let me know that all is well and I can move on as I see fit.

But move on to where and to what?  I have a year ahead to figure out what I want to do, and thus I am in no hurry and feel no pressure about it, but it would be nice if I had an idea.  Do I want to quit my career altogether?  Do I want to transition into something else at the same job, but more in line with something fulfilling?  I've had suggestions about becoming a Counselor (perhaps grief counseling or some such) which would mean a doctorate in Psychology.  I've had some friends recommend medical school and become a doctor - which is intriguing, but given how many years medical school and residency would take might not be practical.  I've had some suggest I go back to the international side of my nature - get an international relations doctorate and go work for an NGO or some such.  This is intriguing too, but as I understand those organizations you really have to start at the bottom and at my age starting at the bottom isn't really practical.  I am roughly in my early-mid career right now and while the money doesn't concern me (I can settle for less then I make now) I am not prepared given my years of hard work to start out in a mail room or equivalent.

As I stated, I have time to figure it out and I plan to spend a lot of time on it.  So that the best decision is made and when I decide on the course of action I am ready for I go in with a gusto and give 1,000% as I typically do when I'm excited about something.

I just need to figure out what the future holds and what will make it happen.